Well, yet again I've taken quite a while to write another blog entry. I've been busy--traveling to New York City to see the Vienna Philharmonic again, traveling to Nashville after the birth of my niece Kaitlin, staying busy at work, watching the Olympics, bargain-shopping for new additions to my Blu-Ray collection...the first couple of months of 2010 have been a bit crazy.
But it's March, and to a film buff like me, that means Oscar time! This period of the year always drives me nuts, and there are numerous reasons why. As usual, there are a whole lot of nominated films that I haven't yet seen, though several are on my to-do list. Then there's my irritation at the pomposity of Hollywood: they get all dressed up to award golden statuettes to...themselves, they wear ribbons to show the world that "they care" about causes (but not enough to give up any large percentage of their wealth in contributing to solutions), they decide that excellence as entertainers means that a show about awarding movies is also a political commentary, a social commentary, an emotional triumph, a grand spectacle, and a comedy routine. (And that's just the opening number.) So concerned are they with the glamor that they give themselves a red carpet to walk down, as if pretending to be something you're not makes you some kind of royalty. And yet for so many film fans, including me, Oscar night still is worth paying attention to; we love the idea that somehow recognizing excellence in film elevates the art form, and also elevates those of us who love watching movies. So here are some of my thoughts about this year's awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
They have expanded the Best Picture category to ten films this year, largely in reaction to the displeasure that many critics have had that popular films are often ignored by the Academy. Of the Top 25 grossing movies of all time, only six have received Best Picture nominations (*winners): Avatar (nominated this year), Titanic*, The Return of the King*, The Two Towers, The Fellowship of the Ring, and Star Wars. In the next ten top-grossing films, only this year's Up and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial got nods. The turning point seems to have been the exclusion of last year's biggest hit The Dark Knight, and so the Academy has doubled the field, and sure enough this year's list includes films like District 9 and Up that probably wouldn't have made the cut otherwise. (I was proud that some critics thought that Star Trek merited inclusion, but alas, it probably placed eleventh in the balloting.) Still, the upshot is that while more films can brag of being Best Picture nominees, only three films are considered as likely contenders: Avatar (the reigning box office champion), The Hurt Locker (a favorite of the critics that performed poorly at the box office but has won most of the important "predictive" awards, including the Producer's Guild and Director's Guild), and Inglourious Basterds (winner of the SAG award).
Interestingly, James Cameron was (deservedly) ignored in the original screenplay category for Avatar. His Best Picture-winning Titanic also was left out of this category, a rare film to win top honors while the script couldn't make the top five. You can check out my review of Avatar for a more thorough analysis, but suffice to say that while he is a visionary filmmaker who pushes the limits of technology and makes greatly entertaining movies, Cameron is lousy at writing dialogue. (He shares this trait with George Lucas, but at least Star Wars got a screenplay nomination. Woody Allen's Annie Hall deserved to beat Lucas in that category, but Star Wars should have won Best Director and Best Picture.)
I'm sorry to say I haven't seen any of the Best Actress nominees this year. Most are predicting Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, but I'm still pulling for Carey Mulligan in An Education. This is largely because she was great as Sally Sparrow in the Hugo-winning Doctor Who episode "Blink." (For my money, that's the best time travel story EVER.) Also, I would like to have seen a Supporting Actress nomination for Diane Kruger or Melanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds. Still, at least we can be certain that Supporting Actor nominee Christoph Waltz will walk away victorious; since the film came out critics have proclaimed the nomination a mere formality--he is responsible for one of the few convincingly evil yet charming psychopaths in film history.
Michael Giacchino should have received nominations for his musical scores for The Incredibles and Star Trek, so I hope he takes one home for Up.
Speaking of which, Up is the second animated film to get a Best Picture nomination, after Beauty and the Beast in 1991. It is the first computer-generated film to be so honored. It won't win, but it has the Best Animated Feature category, something Beauty did not have. I like to think Beauty placed a close second to Silence of the Lambs, but there's no way to prove it.
Star Trek's best hope is in the Best Makeup category, the only one where it isn't competing with Avatar. (Star Trek VI should have won this over the oft-Oscared Terminator 2 in my opinion.) I think it has the edge not only for its complex aliens, tattooed Romulans, and making Zachary Quinto look like young Leonard Nimoy, but because Rachel Nichols is hot even when she's green.
And now for some thoughts on Oscar stuff from years past:
Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor for The Silence of the Lambs despite having less screen time than Supporting Actor winner Tommy Lee Jones of The Fugitive or Supporting nominee Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, who I think deserved to win.
Though it's often said to be the best of the series, The Empire Strikes Back did not receive a Best Picture nomination like Star Wars did. Revenge of the Sith is the only film in the series that did not get a Special Visual Effects nomination, though it certainly deserved one. It was nominated for Best Makeup. It didn't win. (In fact, none of the prequel films won an Oscar; all of the original trilogy picked up at least one.)
The Godfather Part II and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are the only sequels to win Best Picture. (One could argue that Avatar is a futuristic sequel to Dances With Wolves.)
Cimarron, Dances With Wolves, and Unforgiven are the only Westerns to win the top award. Most critics believe Cimarron benefited from a weak year (1931); it is not considered one of the better Best Pictures. Perhaps more impressive is that Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth managed to grab the top prize in 1952 over films that are generally acknowledged as superior: The Quiet Man, High Noon, and Singin' in the Rain.
Only one James Bond film won an Oscar: Thunderball for its visual effects in 1965. Though the series is famous for its opening theme songs, only three had Best Song nominations: Live and Let Die (performed by Paul McCartney and Wings), The Spy Who Loved Me ("Nobody Does It Better," sung by Carly Simon), and For Your Eyes Only (sung by Sheena Easton, the only singer to appear on-screen during the credits). It's a shame that Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (with Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time In the World"), Goldeneye, and Casino Royale (Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name") weren't considered, especially given the ridiculously weak quality of the Best Song category in recent years.
On the same topic, it is hard to imagine that none of the Beatles' original songs for A Hard Day's Night or Help! were nominated, though George Martin was nominated for his orchestral arrangements for the first film. A Best Song Score Oscar was awarded to The Beatles in 1970 for Let It Be, though unfortunately this was not a big enough incentive for the group to get back together.
And of course this blog wouldn't be complete without recognizing great films that didn't win Best Picture (even if they lost to another worthy film): Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, A Few Good Men, North By Northwest, Rear Window, It's A Wonderful Life, The Passion of the Christ, The Sixth Sense, The Ten Commandments, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Any additions you'd like to make to this list? Leave comments below!